LIVERPOOL’S gay culture festival Homotopia has cancelled a two-year international arts project in Russia due to fears of homophobic retalliation from St Petersburg authorities.
Artistic director Gary Everett and two colleagues were due to fly out to the city this month to launch the project, which would have included artist exchanges between Liverpool and St Petersburg – but is afraid of being fined or imprisoned.
Earlier this year the Governor of St Petersburg amended the city’s “administrative offences” to include the “propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and trans-genderism to minors”.
Mr Everett said he had taken advice from the British Consulate in St Petersburg before deciding to cancel his visit.
He said: “The law is preventing LGBT art and artists showcasing ideas.
“They are enforcing it by arresting or fining you or potentially putting you in prison.
“I have never experienced anything like this before. The closest thing I can compare it to is Section 28, when the Thatcher government introduced laws in schools to prevent gay and lesbian culture, but that wasn’t as severe.”
The human rights-led project, entitled Art As Social Change, is one of three international projects conducted by Homotopia.
Funding was provided by the Turku Foundation, based in Finland, where the Liverpool organisation’s Tom Of Finland exhibition attracted 31,000 visitors over 12 weeks.
Turku is twinned with St Petersburg, where Homotopia was due to show an exhibition chronicling the emergence of gay rights movement in the UK and Europe.
A spokesperson for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed going ahead with the project could cause problems.
He said: “In light of that particular piece of legislation, participating in a cultural programme of this kind would possibly put at risk both participants from Liverpool and people involved in Russia, but ultimately the final decision would be down to the group.”
He added that the FCO has raised concerns with the St Petersburg legislature and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the new law is incompatible with Council of Europe guidelines on preventing discrimination against LGBT people.
The Russian Embassy in London was unavailable to comment.
Homotopia’s annual Liverpool festival takes place from October 30 to November 25.